The history of America’s diverse people and their rich culture is under assault. The news cycle is terrifying as it reports the unacceptable reversal that is taking place with banned books, banned philosophies, and anti-immigrant sentiment. It’s as if we have gone back to the pre-1960s where the only story told was from one narrow Euro-centric point of view. Brutal truths combined with laudable excellence were seldom found in the textbooks, libraries, and bookstores.
In 1976, the bicentennial year, I became one of the early editors of color in the field of educational publishing. This meant that I could advocate for a broader viewpoint as I learned more about the actual history of my own people. The change to more inclusion was not simply one of elevated social consciousness. It was a matter of profit. Big urban school systems were able to make demands because their budgets could make or break a sales forecast. This was a complicated business since states like California, Texas, and Florida were in even greater command of what was published due to their large state-managed budgets. Today, we see state departments of education whitewash or eliminate curricula dealing with gruesome parts of American history.
As a producer of content, I am privy to some new and gratifying observations. Many African American boomers are retiring and in several cases returning “home.” The 30- or 40-year journey that launched folks to the halls of academia, the offices of corporate giants, and the labs of biology and technology gave exposure to a broader world of opportunity. There is a deeper appreciation of what “home” provided as a foundation for success and people want to give back and prepare younger generations in their own communities for navigating the global 21st century world.
There is a thirst for sharing knowledge and a desire for celebration of a legacy of overcoming the odds. People have held on to old photographs, letters, journals, and family Bibles. Stories have been passed down for the generations and in many cases those stories are documented. The African American story goes well beyond enslavement to include agency, power, business, leadership, and education. The stories are as diverse as the lives of the Black people who share them, whether from the sugar cane fields in Louisiana, or the tobacco plants in North Carolina, or the automotive factories in Michigan.
Communities are seeking funding for well-resourced cultural centers and museums that are on par with the traditional museums. Researching ancestry has uncovered new and exciting information about perseverance, excellence, brutal truths, and dynamic possibilities. This quest is happening in small towns like Huntington, WV or big cities like Kansas City, MO. In Philadelphia, the African American Museum is preparing to take its place among the museums on the Parkway, further elevating its positioning as a major institution. Additionally, it has launched some interesting artistic collaborations with institutions like the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
In Kansas City, MO, the Bruce Watkins African American Cultural Center is in the midst of a feasibility study to enhance the African American experience it currently provides. The center will elevate the accomplishments of Black artists, elected officials, educators, and businesspeople from the area including U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (who is also the City’s former Mayor). Support comes from a wide range of folks ranging from young professionals to dedicated retirees. The Cleavers have a long legacy of Black excellence that includes the late Eldridge Cleaver, known for his social activism during the 1960s and Emiel Cleaver, noted documentary filmmaker and current Executive Director of the Center.
Huntington, WV’s effort is led by Dr. Cicero Fain, an accomplished historian who has returned from the D.C. area to his roots to lead the conceptual development and fundraising activity that will result in the Appalachian African American Cultural Center. Huntington sits on the Ohio River and is part of a tri-state region that includes Ohio and Kentucky. Dr. Fain is a faculty member with Marshall University. The father of Black History, Carter G. Woodson and “rockstar status” historian, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. hail from West Virginia.
As the nation approaches its 250th birthday in 2026, let’s not be deterred or discouraged by the attempts of some to negate all that we have overcome and accomplished. We are in a position to inspire anew and uplift and educate a new generation. As cities focus on celebrating 250 years, the inclusive aspects of America are noteworthy and deserving of major attention.
Rosalyn McPherson is a seasoned executive with more than thirty years of project management, product development, and marketing expertise in the corporate and non-profit sectors. She loves projects that allow her team to work with diverse communities, thus ensuring that everyone has a voice in the important issues that affect us as human beings. Prior to launching her firm The Roz Group, Inc., Ms. McPherson had a distinguished career in marketing and educational product development and subsequently museum administration. She served as Senior Vice President for the Science Center at the Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, PA).